By the time Mira Kozel was 30, she had the bone density of an 88-year-old woman, and she was diagnosed with advanced osteoporosis.
She had been nourishing herself with a diet rich in low-fat muffins, salads accompanied by fat-free salad dressings, black coffee, prepackaged foods and everything she could find that wouldn't cause her to gain weight.
The result: Doctors told her that she wouldn't be able to lead a normal functioning life. "I was devastated," she said. "You go into a state of shock where you think, 'This is not happening to me.'"
It was only when she started making major changes in her diet, namely eating real foods, cutting genetically modified organisms out of her diet, restoring healthy fats to her salads and figuring out how to maximize the micronutrients in her ingredients (keep the peels on vegetables, leave foods whole until just before serving to reduce vitamin loss, avoid reheating) when she regained her strength and reversed her diagnosis.
That was in 2005.
Fast-forward, and Mira Kozel is now Mira Calton, a licensed certified nutritionist, fitness chef and integrative health specialist. Her husband, Jayson Calton, has a doctorate in nutrition and follows a holistic nutritionist approach. Together they wrote Rich Food Poor Food: The Ultimate Grocery Purchasing System (GPS) to share their nutritional perspectives.
Recently we spoke with the Caltons about the importance of eating real, unaltered foods — and the easy ways that anyone on any budget can stay healthy. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q: What's so bad about genetically modified organisms?
Jayson Calton: They are taking a tomato and taking the DNA of a fish and sticking it into the tomato to make it grow better. They're turning on and off genes in a food. There have been no long-term studies, but there have been short-term studies, and they're bad across the board.
Q: How do we know when the food we're eating has been genetically modified?
Mira Calton: Soy, corn, canola, 55 percent of sugar, papaya, zucchini and squash are GMO crops. What consumers have to do is to learn what the derivatives are and to buy them organic so that they're not eating GMO foods. When the food is organic, it hasn't been genetically modified.
Q: What if you're on a budget and can't afford to buy organic?
M.C.: Stay with the fab 14 to save money, because you never need to buy them organic (see the list of fab 14 foods below). You also can buy local to save money that way. At our farmers market (in Florida), you can buy three or four bags of local food for $18. We never spend more than that. Sometimes, you can find organic stuff at the supermarket for the same price as the nonorganic foods. It's not always more expensive. You just have to identify ingredients that you want to avoid.
Q: Is everything at the farmers market non-GMO?
M.C.: If you're buying organic, an organic food can't be genetically modified. And organic beef or chicken can't even be fed grains that were genetically modified. If you're buying fruits or vegetables at the farmers market, ask the farmers if they plant genetically modified seeds. We've had farmers who have said that they don't know what that means. If they don't know what that means, then run. Because very likely, you have a problem.
Q: Anything to sniff out at the supermarket?
J.C.: We believe that eating foods that are rich in micronutrients is the basis for being rich. Find foods that are high in nutrient value. Turn the box over and read what's in it. You'd be surprised — sometimes, you think you're just buying Canadian bacon, but you're actually buying a ton of other stuff that's been pressed in there to be made to look like bacon.
Make better food choices
The Caltons' tips to making the healthiest food selections at the supermarket and in the kitchen:
The fab 14: Skip the organic, and go for conventionally grown produce for these 14 items: onions, pineapples, avocados, cabbages, asparagus, mangos, kiwis, cantaloupes, sweet potatoes, grapefruits, watermelon, eggplant, sweet peas and mushrooms.
Know your numbers: Conventional produce has a four-digit PLU label, and organic produce has a five-digit PLU beginning with the number 9. Avoid five-digit PLUs beginning with the number 8, which typically signifies that the item is a GMO.
Vampire products: Milk and dried pasta are very sensitive to UV exposure, so they do best in opaque, light-locking containers that prevent riboflavin (vitamin B2) depletion. If you can see your milk or your dried pasta through the container, then that means that the light can get in and can deplete the micronutrients inside.
Double duty: After boiling veggies, save the water and use it again when boiling rice, potatoes or pasta. This way, you're adding some of those lost micronutrients from the vegetables back into your dish.
Shred later: It's healthier to shred cheese at home. To extend the shredded cheese's shelf life and absorb the moisture in the packaging, most bags contain cellulose powder, which is essentially wood pulp — an indigestible fiber.